Pope Francis, branding, perception, marketing,…

Global leaders (Obama, the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates) are global brands: they are people who have managed to project themselves and their qualities into the global arena and who want the perception they have generated there to be assimilated by their organizations.

The election of Pope Francis has been viewed as a result of marketing (with the usual confusion regarding the meaning of that term): the incremental sale of souvenirs to Argentine tourists as opposed to the tight-fisted Germans and their postcards (merchandising); television reports bearing titles such as “Marketing or Revolution”, as if the two were mutually incompatible; the identification of the pope as a marketing type who, faced with a failing product, merely changes the message rather than touching the product itself (as an engineer would do). As can be seen, marketing has generally been approached as synonymous with the sale of products, as if the concept of social marketing did not exist.

Any church has the option of taking the market-oriented approach known as social marketing (“If we can endow a detergent with value, why not a brotherhood?”), of fulfilling its mission by generating value for its stakeholders. If a church values the ebb in the ranks of its faithful, and the undesirable perception this generates, marketing is an excellent alternative.

Was the election of Francis the result of a marketing process? Let’s review some of the results:

–       Election of a leader globally identified from day one with the attributes desired by the Catholic Church: honour, integrity, austerity. Marketing does not mean manipulating the audience, but rather manipulating the product itself, to make it more highly valued.

–       A different kind of leader (non-European, a Jesuit) with a simple, memorable message who is globally respected for his personal integrity and who focuses his message on the faithful, whom he also recognizes (pray for me).

–       A global leader within a year (Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’, mentioned by Obama) who is viewed as simply fulfilling his mission (Matthew 28:19: ‘Therefore go and make disciples…’).

Today the pope is a benchmark brand: a person whom we know what to expect from, including complete consistency between the man and his message. Now we need to wait and see how he will impact the corporate brand, whether as a manager he will manage to convey his own attributes, the consistency between what is said and what is done, to the perception of the Catholic Church.

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